Thursday, August 23, 2001
Future FocusedDonaldo Prescod --Monterey Peninsula College
Donaldo Prescod is a bit irritated. The 22-year-old student filmmaker has just attempted to see, The Others at Northridge Mall, and has had to walk out due to a blurry and bouncy picture. To make matters worse, as Prescod was trying to leave the parking lot, a woman talking on a cell phone rear-ended him. What bothers Prescod the most, however, is the fact that the employees at the movie theater have such little knowledge of the films they show and a laissez-faire attitude as to the quality of the projection.
Details like this matter to Prescod, a former employee of the Dream Theater. A drama and film student at Monterey Peninsula College who never bothers to check out his grades (A''s), Prescod constantly aspires to higher quality. A few years ago, Prescod was attending Hartnell College when he and his buddies made their first film, Black Thunder, a scriptless satire of ''70s exploitation films starring Prescod''s younger brother Daniel as a rude crime fighter who just doesn''t really care about helping people.
Due to some sexual language and violence, Prescod says, he tangled with Hartnell College for permission to show it on campus and eventually prevailed. The result was a decent turnout and a bunch more friends interested in helping Prescod and company with their next digital camcorder venture.
Prescod, who is working on a sequel, really doesn''t like to show Black Thunder anymore, as he sees all its flaws in hindsight. "It caters to the populist mass," he says. "The story is really thin. But it was a lot of fun making it."
As a student at MPC, Prescod has found a "very very good drama program where the teachers really have credibility. They have done their stuff and they bring out the best in you." Instructors like Peter DeBono supported Prescod and his friends in the writing of a play, God and the Machine, which was performed 10:30 till midnight last May and had characters connected through limbo, Earth, purgatory, Hell and Heaven. "It was a good learning experience for me--but I''m always feeling like I''m not quite there yet."
Seemingly his own worst critic, Prescod enjoys enormous support from his family, friends, co-workers and school. "I''m almost bewildered by how supportive people are. Even though some of my stuff doesn''t cater to my parents'' religious background, they are really big on allowing me to follow my dreams." For Prescod, these dreams include transferring to film school next year, probably in L.A., but ultimately sticking close to his roots. Ideally, Prescod will continue to make movies in a hands-on matter with his friends, in a mid-sized community like Monterey with "great scenery."
Learning a New FieldNorma McDougal--Hartnell College
Norma McDougal says she''s void of all organizational skills. The same 22-year-old Hartnell College student commutes from Soledad to Salinas everyday, goes to school full time, works another 20 hours a week at the Hartnell Extended Opportunity Program & Services (EOPS) office, and is raising two boys by herself. But she''s not organized.
"I can''t say I''m organized or that I know what the heck I''m doing because I don''t. Somehow I am doing it--I just don''t know how."
McDougal, whose sons Alex and Charlie are 3 years old and 1 year old, respectively, was born in Mexico City, and moved to Gonzales when she was 3 with her mother and five siblings. Upon graduating from eighth grade, McDougal says she saw no need to continue her education. But her mother, who works in the fields, had a different idea.
"I graduated from eighth grade, and the next day she made me work in the fields with her. Yes, it did change my mind about high school."
Still, she dropped out of high school when she was 16, "because it seemed like the thing to do," and started working various retail and sales jobs. Two years later, while she was pregnant with Alex, she earned her GED. She wanted to go to college, but taking classes and raising a child seemed too daunting of a task. She changed her mind about the time Charlie was born.
"After having my second boy, and still being a single parent, I had no choice." Back to school it was. Once again, McDougal credits her mom with motivating her to further her education.
"When I say she motivated me--I didn''t have the money, I was unemployed and I had just had a baby, and she helped me out, helped me pay for my books and my tuition."
So in August 2000, McDougal entered Hartnell, and found an on-campus job with EOPS office where she currently works as a Cooperative Agencies Resource for Education (CARE) program assistant, helping other single parents.
A state-funded program, CARE helps single parents receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) by providing academic and personal counseling, financial aid for education and child care, and single parent workshops among other things. She''s also studying business administration. Her years working in retail showed McDougal she had a head for business and a knack for sales and marketing. In two years, she will graduate from Hartnell with her A.A. degree, and then plans to attend UC Santa Cruz, and study marketing. Her education goals don''t stop there, however. McDougal wants to attend a business school--top choices include Berkeley or UCLA--and graduate with a Masters degree before finding a job in either education or working as a CEO of a company.
If she can do it, so can other single moms, McDougal says.
"You feel like you are going nuts. You feel like you don''t know what to do. But it is possible. I''m the most unorganized person in the world and I am doing it. We just need to look for help because there is a lot of help out there for us."
Fast-Talking ManDoug Helton--Defense Language Institute
The words "cryptologic linguist" do not roll trippingly off the tongue. Neither does Farsi, the Persian language spoken in Iran and Afghanistan. Actually, for most people studying any foreign language with an entirely new alphabet, the challenge is quite overwhelming. But for Doug Helton, an Air Force First Class Airman who''s been studying at the Defense Language Institute for the past year, it was ultimately, well, not too hard.
Helton''s a 19-year-old Indiana kid who''s always been one of those students everyone else hated--the one who cut up in class, pretended to be sleeping, and half-listening, without studying, pulled off perfect grades. With a major talent for osmosis, Helton absorbed his intense year at DLI with little studying and ended up with perfect scores in reading and listening (he passed but needs a little work on speaking). Helton''s blessed with a remarkable memory that startles his own mother. "I can remember every detail of my fourth birthday party--all the kids who were there, the He-Man cake and the Rambo action figure I got."
Back in Noblesville, IN, Helton enlisted at age 17 in the footsteps of an Air Force brother and other military family members, with the expressed goal to serve his country. Upon taking a battery of placement tests, Helton discovered his aptitude for languages, and was promptly shuffled to Monterey to study at DLI, with the likely outcome of becoming the aforementioned cryptologic linguist. Helton''s first few weeks were intense: "The instructors were constantly speaking in Persian and most of the students would come home after school with a huge headache--there was so much to take in."
Although Helton had his share of headaches, something clicked early on, and he ended up with a language ability that would allow him to survive in a Farsi speaking country. (I''m only allowed to speculate that he might end up on one of those spy planes, decoding Persian conversations. Helton would not confirm nor deny any such speculation.)
Helton balanced out his 30 hours a week of Persian language training with early morning and afternoon Air Force duties, training other recruits in P.C. (physical conditioning), and evenings relaxing with video games. After his first six months at DLI, Helton married his high school sweetheart Julie, and has been allowed to move into off-base housing with his new wife.
Next week, Helton graduates from DLI and gets shipped to Texas for some more top-secret training, then after several months, moved to Georgia. He''ll be in Georgia for a couple years, but would really like to end up permanently in Monterey. "I want to come back as a MLI--a Military Language Instructor--they''re quality control and make sure the students do their homework, and since I''ve already been a student, I know what it''s like for them." Yes, but can''t he teach them how to get great grades without studying?
La Femme de SoleilVicki Kuriger--Monterey Peninsula College
Vicki Kuriger can be found quite often in the café at Borders in Sand City. She was there on a recent afternoon sipping a cup of coffee and reading Paris Match magazine. A 29-year-old blonde from San Diego with a fast smile, Kuriger is a student at Monterey Peninsula College, where she is doing a double major in French and History. She just got back from two weeks in Paris.
When she got to MPC more than two years ago, Kuriger had been an archaeology major. The only problem with that plan is she wants to have a family. "Dragging a child to Egypt for three months a year probably isn''t fair," she says.
While she''s been at MPC, Borders has been an unofficial study hall for her and her fellow students. At the café tables, they set up their laptops, order coffees, organize study groups, study, and as Kuriger says, "kick it." She and her husband Daniel live in military officer housing on the former Fort Ord. He is a nuclear engineer for the Navy studying for a Master''s degree in "space systems engineering" at the Naval Postgraduate School. Yup, he''s a rocket scientist, but Kuriger doesn''t know the particulars.
"It''s a classified position, so I don''t really know, but that''s why we''re in Monterey," she says. Since her husband will be finishing his degree this winter and expects to be posted in Rhode Island, Kuriger knows she''s leaving soon. She''ll miss the Peninsula. "I love Monterey. But the fog, I''m over. I miss the sun."
She''s made the most of her time at MPC. Last year she was the class president. She also tutors French. This spring she gave a speech at the graduation ceremony and got all her classmates to stand up and say thank you to everyone deserving thanks.
Because of the various international affairs seminars held around here, she has also been lucky enough to meet and ask questions of Jesse Ventura, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Kuriger says her time at MPC has been great. If she didn''t have to leave and if it were as sunny here as San Diego, she''d want to stick around. "It''s opened so many doors. I wish it were a four-year school. I wish I could stay there," she says.
Brain PowerDaniel Atwater--California State University at Monterey Bay
Although he professes to be a "science dork," 24-year-old Daniel Atwater puts up a pretty good front. A CSU Monterey Bay student majoring in Earth Systems Science Policy with a concentration in Geophysical Science (hence the dorky connotation), Atwater likes to balance out his devotion to science with studying Latin, playing guitar, surfing, hiking, and saving the world. A stint in the Navy brought him to his primary focus, oceanography, and his concern for a sustainable ecosystem led him to his current research goal: to create an affordable system to harness the ocean''s energy without damaging the environment.
Luckily for me, Atwater manages to translate science jargon into something even the most non-linear person can comprehend. (Oh yeah, he''s minoring in math too. He thinks solving equations is fun.)
Working with CSUMB faculty and a company called Ocean Power, Atwater is helping design a new CSUMB Science Center that would be run solely on waste, such as banana peels, and the odd solar panel or two.
"It would be one of the first of its kind and would attract international students," he says. In his spare time, Atwater runs the Latin Club (so far he and his buddy Matt are the only ones really attending), and does ocean research, like mapping out wave frequencies. For his senior thesis, he''s working with UC Berkeley''s Sea Power and Associates to create a reef-like structure that would transfer energy out of the ocean into fuel cells that could do anything from run your car to power your home.
Atwater laughs when I ask if he was always this focused.
"I messed around in high school," he says. "I only got into school recently." After time at several California community colleges, Atwater discovered CSUMB while driving down Highway 1, and he''ll graduate next year. At CSUMB, Atwater has found a strong science department and small classes, but sees room to grow in other departments. He finds his professors constantly encouraging him to think for himself--advice that he thrives on. "It''s challenging and rewarding, and really up to the students to make the most of it. Some students have animosity because they don''t want to take the initiative to make a name for the school."
While continuing to work with Sea Power, Atwater''s committed to joining the Peace Corps after he graduates. He hopes to be somewhere in the South Pacific where he can develop an energy program to suit the local need. "I want to give something back. I don''t want to be a profit guy."
A Numbers GuyVincent van Joolen--Naval Postgraduate School
It looks like a mixture of Arabic and Chinese, the scribblings on Vincent van Joolen''s dry erase board. Actually, it''s not a foreign language at all but it might as well be. It''s math. Serious math.
Van Joolen is a commander in the Navy, a mathematician and a classical singer. For the next two years he''ll be studying for a Ph.D. in applied mathematics at Monterey''s Naval Postgraduate School. The scribblings are formulas for figuring out such questions as how hot or cold a metal rod might be--a metal rod that stretches on to infinity.
Van Joolen, 40, is a graduate of UC San Diego with a degree in chemical engineering. He went on to get a Navy commission at age 23. For an accumulated ten years of his 17-year Navy career, van Joolen has seen the world by sea, on three different ships. On the last, an amphibious transport named the U.S.S. Juneau, van Joolen was the executive officer, the second in command. A Navy career guarantees sea deployments, interspersed with time on dry land. Every time he''s come ashore, the Navy has sent him to the ivory tower of academia.
"I think if they looked at my record they''d say, ''God, we''ve sent this guy to too much school''," he says, sitting in his third-floor office in Glasgow Hall.
In 1995, the Navy sent him to learn German at the DLI, then to the German army''s leadership academy in Hamburg. Ten years ago he got a masters at NPS in applied math. He''s also got a degree in strategic studies from the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.
Now, with a wife and two kids, he''s on a third go-round in Monterey. With a doctorate degree, the next step is a professor''s gig at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., a post which will more than round out his 20-year service commitment. The Navy wants a small cadre of senior officer professors at Annapolis who can teach a class but also give cadets a glimpse of what''s ahead.
"Everything I''ve done in the Navy that I chalk up to experience becomes a foundation of what I pass on to the midshipmen," he says.
The Navy has a lot of use for math--measuring trajectories, propulsion, weather patterns and war patterns. The kind of math van Joolen does means a single problem can take a whole day and a few sheets of paper. Unlike Algebra, where you''re either right or wrong, van Joolen''s math is a bit more complex.
"At this level we''re happy with ''almost right''," he says.
His instructions for his doctoral dissertation are to "add to the body of knowledge of mathematics" that is, to solve an unanswered problem.
If mathematics is a pyramid of truths, two years from now, van Joolen will have added another part. It''s no small assignment.
"The pyramid is huge," he says.
Antiwar ActivistAnjali Bhattacharjee--Monterey Institute for International Studies
A 22-year-old who''s a year away from achieving her Master''s degree in International Policy Studies, and is also researching nuclear arms proliferation, Anjali Bhattacharjee shrugs off the idea that she''s a phenom.
"I''m a nerd--I skipped a few years of high school," she says.
The Monterey Institute of International Studies student hails from New Delhi, India, and arrived in the U.S. by way of Florida seven years ago, to pursue her undergraduate studies at Florida International University. After graduating with a B.A. in International Relations, Bhattacharjee wanted to take her learning to a higher level, and found the perfect environment at MIIS.
"I wouldn''t have a single negative thing to tell you about MIIS, and I would totally tell you if I did," she says. "Everyone is really supportive at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, and it gives you really practical experience." The Center gives Bhattacharjee the chance to work under such experts as senior analyst Tim McCarthy, who inspected Iraq''s weapons arsenal after the Gulf War. Between classes which include French ("I only know French, Spanish, English and Hindi. It''s totally not impressive when you meet students who know all of those plus Mandarin and Russian"), Bhattacharjee puts in research hours at CNS and takes breaks to work out and do kickboxing.
As Bhattacharjee defines her research goal, it is to educate the dangers of weapons of mass destruction. She eventually hopes to work with an international organization, such as the United Nations, but is open to going almost anywhere that allows her to help the world on a large scale, while enjoying the excitement of traveling. "Being in this field makes you feel like you''re working for something bigger than yourself. It totally called me--at the end of the day there is a sense of gratification. I don''t know how much difference one person can make," she muses, "but it''s worth trying. So many people moan and complain but they don''t do anything."